Saturday, August 8, 2009


Here I am in the mood for some research again. Research of the kind that you do in the library with books and archived newspapers and old exam papers and other interesting stuff that recklessly throws itself in the path of your questing brain. Later there will be time for organising and structuring and making choices, but right now it's just time for looking and reading and thinking and dreaming. Of course, this is the easiest bit and sometimes tricks you into thinking it's the funnest bit, but actually the part when the threads start to come together and narratives and little clusters of information start forming (like lumps in bad gravy or hopelessly tangled knitting) is probably the most exciting for me.

I was lucky enough in my last job to have a fair bit of these research processes, spread across the National Library of Australia and diverse other specialist collections. The fun of it all. My current job doesn't have much of this kind of work, apart from looking back over our own files, which can be a journey of discovery all its own I admit but hardly nourishing in the long run.

But being in a festive sort of research mood has accidentally put me in a 'reflecting on what went wrong with my PhD' sort of mood as well. It's more elegiac than forensic, though, I guess. But generally speaking I think what went wrong (external forces aside) is that I asked the wrong question, so the answers I got just were not all that interesting to me. I didn't have the skills to answer the question I really wanted to ask, so I didn't ask it. 18 months in the public service has taught me that I can learn to do anything*, so stupid me for not just putting up my hand and saying that I needed to do a bit of coursework in my study plan. So here is my advice to budding researchers - ask yourself a question you really want to know the answer to, not a question that fits what you think you can find out.

At the moment in my research space I have lots of small questions to answer, which I hope will add up to some bigger sorts of answers in the long run. And I'm very happy to be here in the heart of the nation, with lots of nice, research-friendly, national institutions.

*within certain limits, naturally.

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